Wills Hall

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Wills Hall
Inside Old Quad as seen from centre lawn
Inside Old Quad as seen from centre lawn
University University of Bristol
Location Stoke Bishop, Bristol, England
Coordinates 51°29′00″N 2°37′38″W / 51.483209°N 2.627198°W / 51.483209; -2.627198Coordinates: 51°29′00″N 2°37′38″W / 51.483209°N 2.627198°W / 51.483209; -2.627198
Motto Pro Aris et Focis (Latin)
Motto in English For our altars and our hearths
Founder George Alfred Wills
Established 1928
Architect Sir George Oatley
Warden Robert Vilain
Residents 330
Website www.bris.ac.uk/Depts/Wills/home.htm
Wills Hall is located in Bristol
Wills Hall
Location in Bristol

Wills Hall is one of the nine halls of residence in the University of Bristol. Cresting the Stoke Bishop site on the edge of the Bristol Downs, in Parry's Lane, it houses 330 students in two quadrangles. The majority of these students are in their first year of study, but a number of students from other years stay on to contribute to hall life through the Junior Common Room or other groups.


The name of Wills Hall reflects the university-wide connection with the Wills family. The fortune made by their famous tobacco empire, W. D. & H. O. Wills and later Imperial Tobacco, enabled Henry Overton Wills III to fund the University's foundation in 1908 with a pledge of £100,000 and many of its finest buildings, such as the Wills Memorial Building. His son George Alfred Wills provided the money to build a hall of residence in memory of his brother Henry Herbert Wills. He originally planned to base the hall around Goldney Hall in Clifton, next to the existing hall of Clifton Hill House. However, the warden of the all-female Clifton Hill House felt that having so many young men so close to "her girls" would be a grave moral risk, and demanded that the new hall be sited at least two miles away. Thus Downside House in Stoke Bishop was purchased, and a quadrangle of accommodation blocks erected around it according to the design of Sir George Oatley. It has been designated by English Heritage as a grade II listed building.[1] A Latin inscription on the exterior of the dining hall dedicated the hall to Henry Herbert.

Downside House, now the warden's lodgings

Wills Hall was officially opened by Winston Churchill in 1929, then the Chancellor of the University. When he returned to open Churchill Hall in the late 1950s, he allowed himself to be "kidnapped" and his release was allowed only after he signed the following statement, now displayed in the Warden's Lodge at Wills:

"I Winston Spencer Churchill MP, CH Chancellor of the University of Bristol, Declare there be no Finer Hostel than Wills Hall among the Universities of the British Empire".[2]

The initial quadrangle sufficed until rising student numbers precipitated the building of a further accommodation block, 'XYZ', which was opened in 1961. Another expansion in 1990 completed this 'New Quad' as 'UVW' block was built. This new block featured en-suite rooms and a conference centre, in an effort to make Wills more competitive as a venue for the conference market, which was becoming an important source of revenue for cash-strapped universities.[3]

Having initially been an all-male institution, Wills became the last hall to accept both sexes in 1985, despite opposition from the more traditionalist wing of the Wills Hall Association. In that first year, seventy women took up residence alongside 200 men, but over the next few years female numbers quickly rose, and Wills today is equally split between the sexes. However, due to the shared bathroom facilities, staircases in old quad and floors in XYZ blocks are single-sex.


Over the main entrance to Wills Hall can be seen a shield emblazoned with the Wills family crest and their motto "Pro Aris et Focis". This Latin phrase literally means "for our altars and our hearths", but is used by ancient authors to express attachment to all that was most dear and venerable. It could be more idiomatically translated as "for our homes".

Warden and Deputy Warden[edit]

The Warden of Wills Hall is Robert Vilain, Professor of German and Comparative Literature in the School of Modern Languages. Professor Vilain is an expert in German and Austrian poetry of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a particular interest in the works of Rainer Maria Rilke and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

The Deputy Warden is Chris Raistrick, who is a research associate for the Children of the 90s study.


The Old Quad in the snow
Back of Old Quad as seen from the Cedar Lawn

The Monica Wills Chapel was opened in 1930 and holds a short informal service for students from the Stoke Bishop halls each Sunday morning during term-time. It is occasionally used to stage plays and concerts.

The Wills Hall Association, former members of Wills Hall, has recently presented Wills with an eleven stop two manual pipe organ as a present to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Hall. The organ was built by Peter Collins in 1983 when it was installed in St. Alban's Abbey for the International Organ Festival. It was then moved to the Christian Science Church in Clifton until its closure in 2007. The inaugural recital on the organ was given by David Bednall on 1 November 2008.

Wills Hall has an oak-panelled dining room, often likened to that of an Oxbridge college. There are also tennis and squash courts which the Hall shares with the rest of the halls on the Stoke Bishop Site, a croquet lawn, table tennis room, and an oak-panelled snooker room which dates back to the original Downside House. The Wills Hall Summer Ball takes place in June of each year.

Formal Hall is a weekly tradition within Wills, which holds strict rules on attire, including the wearing of an academic gown. Latin grace (Benedictus Benedicat) is said by the Warden at the beginning and end and there usually a speech, either by the Warden or a guest.


A major part of Hall life for all students is the Junior Common Room, which organizes a wide variety of social events, parties, guest nights, and an annual summer ball (jointly with Badock Hall).


The Hall has a theatrical society, the Wills Hall Amateur Theatrical Society (WHATS) which performs musicals, plays and variety shows for the students.

Wills Hall used to publish its own newsletter, The Executor, which was edited by students in hall and was published several times a year. This itself was the successor to the Wills Hall Loo Sheet, a newsletter that took its name from the fact that it was distributed by being posted in all communal lavatories around the hall. In 2015, a satirical newspaper called The Oracle was published for two issues before being shut down by the Wills authorities. [4]

Former members of Hall are encouraged to join The Wills Hall Association, which has been running since 1930. The Association offers good networking opportunities for old members. It also holds a well-attended annual reunion in Bristol every summer in July when former members return for a reception in the Warden's garden followed by a black-tie dinner in Hall with a notable guest speaker. In 2009 the guest of honour was Bob Marshall-Andrews QC MP, parliamentarian and wit; in 2016 the speaker was the new Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor Hugh Brady. The July event includes a concert or recital and a service in the Monica Wills Chapel. The Association also holds a popular annual reception in London in the autumn, which attracts members who live in London and the South East, and a reception in the Warden's House (usually in February). The Association produces a Yearbook and a Newsletter for its growing membership which comes from every era of those who enjoyed Wills Hall from the 1930s to the present.


There have been ten Wardens of Wills Hall:

  • Harry Norton Matthews (1929-1935)
  • Richard Keigwin (1935-1945)
  • Oliver Kendall (1945-1959)
  • John Sloane (1959-1973)
  • Arthur Graves (1973-1982)
  • Sean Gill (1982-1991)
  • Phyllida Parsloe (1991-1997)
  • Donald Shell (1997-2009)
  • Julian Rivers (2009-2015)
  • Robert Vilain (2015- )


Wills Hall and "classism"[edit]

In 2003, as part of the national controversy surrounding claims that British universities were discriminating in favour of public school applicants, The Observer ran an article purporting to highlight class-strife and prejudice in Wills.[5] Letters in reply followed the next week vigorously defending Wills.[6]

Mini incident[edit]

In 2008 a Harrow-educated undergraduate at Wills Hall crashed a Mini Cooper in the grounds of the Hall while intoxicated.[7] Vehicles (including the Warden's), beds and other unorthodox objects have mysteriously appeared on the lawn of the Old Quad on many occasions.

Notable former students[edit]


  1. ^ "Wills Hall". Images of England. Retrieved 13 March 2007. 
  2. ^ History of Wills Hall
  3. ^ "Index Communications Meeting Services Newsletter" (pdf). Index Communications Meeting Services. Retrieved 18 March 2006. 
  4. ^ http://thetab.com/uk/bristol/2015/02/12/cringe-pamphlet-saying-northerners-have-aids-and-fat-people-are-diseased-distributed-in-wills-hall-13698
  5. ^ Amelia Hill (9 March 2003). "Inside a university challenged". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2006. 
  6. ^ Letters: University entry policy (16 March 2003). "Positive discrimination? Don't insult me". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2006. 
  7. ^ Leach, Ben (29 October 2008). "Student wrecks Mini in 'Italian Job' prank". The Daily Telegraph. London. 

External links[edit]